Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Optimizing Dynamic Websites

Dynamic content used to be a real obstacle for any Search Engine friendly website. Search Engines did not crawl and index these pages which made optimization of such websites nearly impossible. But now times have changed and so do the Search Engines and their indexing process. Now SEs include dynamically generated pages in their index.

Although Search Engines have started indexing and ranking dynamic websites but some particulars of dynamic pages can still be obstacles to getting indexed. Today most of the websites have some level of dynamic or CMS-managed content which means that you need to follow certain guidelines to avoid major pitfalls and ensure that your dynamic body of work is search engine friendly from head to toe.

Here are some guidelines that help your web pages to be crawled properly by the Search Engines:

Allow Search Engine Robots to Follow Regular HTML Links to All The Pages of Your Website

Search engine robots reach any page by following the links to that particular page. Sometimes it becomes difficult for the search robots to reach all the pages on a dynamic website. You can get an idea of the same by the following example.

Suppose you have a form on your website and you ask people to select their preferred category from a dropdown menu, and then when people submit the form your website generates a page with content that is specifically written for that particular category. Since Search Engine robots are software programs, they don't fill out forms or select from dropdown menus, so there will be no way for them to get to that page.

This problem can be rectified by providing standard HTML links that point to all the dynamic pages. The easiest way to do this is to add these links to your site map.

Set Up an XML Sitemap

If providing static HTML links is not possible, you can use an XML site map to tell search engines the locations of all your pages.

You can tell Google and Yahoo! about your sitemap through their webmaster tools (Google Webmaster Tools and Yahoo Webmaster Tools).

Keep The Dynamic URLs Short and Tidy

Here are a few guidelines you should follow for your website parameters:

  • Limit the number of parameters in the URL to a maximum of 2
  • Use the parameter "?id=" only when in reference to a session id
  • Be sure that the URL functions if all dynamic items are removed
  • Be sure your internal links are consistent - always link with parameters in the same order and format

Avoid Dynamic Looking URLs

Not only for Search engines but dynamic-looking URLs are also less attractive to your human visitors. Most people prefer URLs that clearly communicate the content on the page and such pages get more hits than dynamic looking urls.

Static-looking URLs are more likely to receive inbound links, because usually people are reluctant to link to pages with very long or complicated URLs. Also keywords in the URL are one of the factors in Search Engine Ranking Algorithms.

There are many tools available that can re-create a dynamic site in static form and re-write your URLs, if you have too many parameters, to "look" like regular non-dynamic URLs.

De-Index Stubs

Website stubs are pages that are generated by dynamic sites but really have no independent content on them. For example, if your website is a shopping cart for apparels, there may be a page generated for the category “Age 8-10 Skirts” but you may not actually have any products in this category. Stub pages are not only a real no no for the Search Engines but are annoying to searchers also. So, if you can not avoid them, exclude them from indexing using the robots.txt file or robots meta tag.

De-Index Pages With Duplicate Content

While this is not a problem specific to dynamic websites but dynamic sites are the ones which are more likely to face this problem than the static ones. If there are multiple pages on your site with identical or nearly identical content, exclude the duplicate pages from indexing using the robots.txt file or a robots meta tag. Choose the most appropriate and relevant page and exclude the rest.

Since dynamic content is usually timely and useful, more and more webmasters are opting for such websites and Search Engines are ranking them in their result pages. And now you know how to optimize your dynamic website and make it reach its full Search Engine potential so that it can rank well in the SERPs.

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